Required Listening: Pavement’s ‘Brighten the Corners’ turns 21
One of the most remembered records by the unparalleled Pavement, Brighten the Corners, is turning the big 2-1 on Feb. 11. Amid the rise of teen idol pop bands like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, the four college students that made up Pavement were recording music in their friend’s basements in Stockton, Calif. and releasing lo-fi, melodic, raw-bone noise into the world.
After releasing three records full of unexpected reverb and scratchy guitar strums, Pavement perfected a blend of classic rock and West Coast underground sounds on Brighten the Corners. I’ll name a few things you should listen to this week to celebrate Brighten the Corners’s influence on modern music of all types, from art pop and indie rock to lo-fi bedroom shoegaze.
The two introductory tracks on Brighten the Corners and two of the most well-known Pavement songs, “Stereo” and “Shady Lane,” epitomize the band’s ability to combine steady drum beats with deep bass hits and shaky guitar riffs. In each song, Stephen Malkmus’s double-edged voice spills wit into a rhythmic atmosphere. The resulting quick but relaxed groovy pace for the rest of the record creates a rooted balance between swift punk clashes and smooth rock ‘n’ roll tunes.
The diverse sound of Pavement’s music stems from their deep pool of sometimes unrelated influences that deserve just as much attention when remembering Brighten the Corners. In “Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement” by Rob Jovanovic, there is a list of albums and artists that each band member pinpointed Pavement’s creation on. The list jumps from the art rock sounds of The Velvet Underground to the ambient noises of Faust.
The shallow bass strums on Brighten the Corners bring us back to the sounds found in the song “A Can of Lemonade” off the album Remorse Code by The Desperate Bicycles. In the song “Walking Talking Channel,” Malkmus’s distinct vocals that hop with guitar hits are found in Danny Wigley’s jumpy and crooning voice. Remorse Code’s fuzzy and guttural guitar sounds were ahead of their time with its 1979 release, handing the world endless possibilities of exploration with the do-it-yourself attitude.
Pavement was also influenced by one of my personal favorite records, Pink Flag by Wire. Pink Flag is full of chunky bass-lines, weepy vocals and heavy reverbs. The songs “Strange” and the record’s title track hit all of the right spots in your eardrums and commands your body to move with the drums, creating an experience that Pavement’s “We Are Underused” instills in listeners.
Other honorable mentions that made Pavement who they were, and that also made music what it is and what it can be, are (of course) “Rise Above” from Black Flag’s Damaged, “I Dreamed I Dream” from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation and “Dreams Never End” from New Order’s Movement.
Each of these songs showcases how broad the spectrum can reach in the worlds of lo-fi, punk and rock, and how each band’s distinct sounds can be borrowed and crafted into something like Brighten the Corners. At its release, Brighten the Corners was incredibly fresh, delivering individual sounds with honest lyrics, and now, it takes its own place on the list of eternal influential records.